The big Yerevan clubs are matching each other blow for blow as just four points separate the top four in Armenia. UEFA.com gauges the lay of the land eight games into the Premier League season.
Boasting a number of Armenian Under-21 internationals, unbeaten FC Pyunik top the table after six wins and two draws. Having also thrashed FC Banants 4-0 in the Armenian Independence Cup final, the side whose name translates as Phoenix are targeting a tenth straight title. "We have a young team, but all the players have international as well as league experience," said coach Vardan Minasyan. "Pyunik always set high standards so we will try to defend our crown."
Fourth last term with a home-grown side, Banants have a stark new look in 2010 after new coach Stevica Kuzmanoski brought in a raft of foreign talent. However, a 4-0 defeat by FC Mika in their opening match had the coach musing: "Anything can happen in football, we played really badly and were punished." Lessons learned, the team named after founder Sargis Israelyan's home town have not lost since, their five victories and two draws leaving them second, three points off pole position.
Even so, Banants have conceded more goals – 11 – than any of the other challengers, prompting them to part with centre-back Dejan Lovrić. In contrast, third-placed Ulisses FC have been the most miserly, shipping just three goals despite losing Armenia goalkeeper Gevorg Kasparov and defender Hrayr Mkoyan in the close season. Grigoriy Krasovskyi and Valeri Aleksanyan came in to replace them, with coach Sevada Arzumanyan saying: "Losing those players was a big blow, but the newcomers can fill the gap." So far, so good.
The same cannot quite be said for Mika, a point behind Banants and Ulisses in fourth. Second last year having run Pyunik close, they were some people's championship favourites, yet early defeats by Pyunik in the league and Banants in the cup semi-finals tell their own tale. Foreign signings such as Lithuanian Mindaugas Grigalevičius and Brazilian Junior have yet to impress. However, a home win against Pyunik on Saturday could spark an upturn in fortunes.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.